The Information Technology team within most corporations is critical to a company’s long term success. It houses critical data, drives the analytical capabilities of other departments and plays a crucial role in the communication network of the company. Yet time and again it faces the challenge of budget reductions in a manner that seems both shortsighted and unfair. Often, the biggest challenge IT departments face during budget reviews is proving their value to the bottom line of their company. One novel and underused technique for doing this is for IT to prove that it is vital to the success of the organization’s mission.
Yet, Mission Statements are a paradox: the most popular management tool of the past twenty-five years and yet often the least respected. Chances are your company has one -- framed nicely in the lobby perhaps -- but can you recite it?Word for word? Can everyone in your IT department? If not, how can you defend your budget and your department’s role within the company?
You may be tempted to dismiss your firm’s mission statement as corporate window-dressing with little relevance to your day-to-day business life – but do so at your peril. More than two decades of studying business success and failure have taught me that every company, regardless of size, needs to have a formally written statement of its mission. But not all mission statements are created equal. A good mission statement should identify your organization’s unique and enduring ‘reason for being’. It should make it clear to employees at all levels what it is the firm is trying to accomplish and why customers would want to do business with you. And a great mission statement will guide the day-to-day actions and decisions of everyone within the company and result in a more focused allocation of valuable time and resources.
All my research indicates that mission statements can make a positive difference to an organization’s bottom line results, provided they are designed and implemented properly.
But leaders of IT should also consider building a departmental mission statement - one that unmistakably aligns with their corporate one. Unfortunately, you may not feel comfortable leading such an important undertaking simply because it is not one of your core competencies. That’s very understandable. Great leaders, however, never hesitate to get help when they need it. Perhaps considering the following four guidelines will assist you. Be warned, though. If you fail to follow any of them, you are probably missing out on some of the advantages that a mission statement can bring your department.
1. The IT mission development process should involve a cross-section of employees.
A mission’s successful implementation depends on buy-in from both formal and informal leaders in an organization. A common employee criticism I’ve heard repeatedly is “It’s not my mission -- I wasn’t included in creating it and neither were any of my peers.” Input from a wide variety of sources should be solicited, considered and incorporated into the final document. If your department is small enough – involve everyone!
2. The IT mission statement should focus on your ‘customers’ and employees.
My research shows that the most effective mission statements clearly and succinctly zero in on what the firm (or department) strives to do for both its (external or internal) customers and its staff. Beware of making it too long and having too many priorities. Beware also of statements that are too short as they won’t provide enough guidance. Although there’s no absolute rule about length, many good ones run 60 to 80 words.
3. The IT mission statement must be known by all IT departmental employees.
If your company currently has a mission statement, try writing it out right now. Then ask your assistant and a new employee to do the same thing. Familiarity is the first step in any mission’s successful implementation. The bottom line is that if you can’t say it, you can’t live it! Once you build your departmental mission statement, make sure that everyone knows about it. This means referring to your company/department mission statement every chance you get -- in meetings, one-on-one conversations and all publications? Quite simply, you can’t reinforce your mission statement often enough.
4. The IT mission statement must be completely integrated and embedded into the department.
To what extent have you aligned your IT organization with its mission? To what extent are mangers asked to relate their plans and budgets to it? Does your mission statement form the basis from which training, recruitment, promotion, reward and disciplinary programs are developed? Do you systematically evaluate your progress against the mission? If the answer to the last question is ‘no’, I can assure you that IT is missing out on a major opportunity to prove its worth by helping to make the corporate mission really matter. After all, you can’t manage what you don’t measure and IT can facilitate and enable the measurement of the mission.
I therefore challenge you to build your department’s IT mission statement or revisit your current one. Look at it objectively and with a fresh set of eyes and use these four guidelines as assist you. There’s no doubt that when your departmental IT mission is fully aligned with your company’s mission you will secure the necessary resources to help your company –- and your department -- enjoy long term success.
Dr. Chris Bart (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professor of Strategy and Governance at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business and the founder of two international consulting organizations. Dr. Bart is the author of the best-selling mission implementation and leadership book A Tale of Two Employees and the Person Who Wanted to Lead Them. His websites are www.corporatemissionsinc.com and www.SchreiberBart.com.